This year Agile Alliance are supporting the team who are putting together Agile2008 in a brave new experiment in refactoring how we organize our Agile conference. We're actually applying agile principles to the way the conference is put together.
The Agile2007 conference was soldout (1100 attendees) very quickly so we wanted to expand the conference to enable more people from the Agile community could attend. However, we did not want to lose the interactive nature of the conference - we want people to have the opportunity to learn agile techniques through hands-on interactive workshops which work best in small groups. Also our program is selected by experts from the agile community in a peer review process and behind the scenes the committees have been overwhelmed by the effort required to review all the sessions. For example, last year we had 150 experience report proposals to review and whittle down to our top 50 reports. It was a similar story for other session types like tutorials.
We could have chosen to remain capped at 1100 attendees because new agile conferences are appearing to meet the demand for agile events. More agile events are being run by commercial organizations such as Agile Development Practices and Valtech Agile Days. Agile Alliance sponsors around 25 other agile conferences every year with special support for new conferences like Agile Open which are run as open space events.
Was there a way to grow the conference without compromising the quality and draining the volunteers who put the program together? I started thinking about how we could apply lean principles to the conference - I talked to Mary Poppendieck about this. I also listened to the bold ideas of Chris Matts (who recommended we go for co-located mini-conferences with community input on stories for the conference) and Elisabeth Hendrickson (who recommended we open up reviews to the agile community).
My final inspiration was Glastonbury Festival the largest greenfield music festival in the world. I've attended the festival on various years from 1983 to 2000 and seen it grow from a few fields to an amazing capacity. In 2007, over 700 acts played on over 80 stages with about 177,000 people camping in the fields to take part. The way this is done is to create many different stages each organised around a particular style of music - this idea can be applied to our conference to create a . So Glastonbury provided the inspiration for the music festival metaphor which we have applied to Agile2008 conference this year - we are creating many "stages" within our program - each stage is designed around a topic and organized by experts (acting as stage producers) who are truly passionate about their particular areas. Each stage will have a feel of a smaller, focused mini-conference whilst providing the conference attendee with a wide choice of stages to choose from. This should help people find the sessions that match their interests as each stage will have a dedicated space where sessions related to the stage topic will be presented.
The boldest step in changing the way the conference is run is not the music festival metaphor but the way we are gathering and reviewing the session proposals for the conference. We are not doing this behind closed doors - anyone can actually create a user profile and add their own reviews and ratings on the sessions proposals. This will enable presenters to respond to review feedback and adjust their session proposals before the deadine for submissions which is February 25th. This approach has been used for XPDays in UK and Benelux for a couple of years which attract audiences of about 200 people - we hope it will also work for our much larger program.
Check out Grigori Melnik's Agile2008 call for participation message on YouTube
We hope this open process works and we encourage you to participate in it! We already have a good number of interesting session proposals in the system so please do your bit for the agile community and take a peek!